Friday, December 30, 2005

Art and Whatever

Ben and I watched this PBS documentary on American art in the second half of the 20th century last night and I have to say I love documentaries about artists, I love reading about artists, I love artists, obviously, since I married one, but one of the things I always end up thinking about is what I do as art. (Not blogging so much, for me, but actual story-writing.) OF COURSE, I know it’s one of the arts. But art art, fine art, was always something I was interested in and never pursued not just because I didn’t think I was great at it, but because writing floated my boat more than anything. (Another discussion for another time is why I didn’t pursue music, which is perhaps complex and perhaps as simple as TOTAL FEAR.) In any case, listening to artists talk about their art and other people’s art, I moved up on my mental netflix queue of passing thoughts, the idea that while Ben, for example, works with paint and wood, I work with words and letters and punctuation. Which helps a little in terms of being less frustrated by my ability to come up with/execute art art, because not only does it hopefully result in a thoughtful reflection of the world, it is, albeit in a different way, still a visual art, and, I think, this interest of mine in art art, goes some way toward explaining why I like to experiment with language and even with punctuation. I like the way words look on a page. I care about the look of the font, the slant of the italic.
Anyway, another thing they talked about a lot on the program was the idea of nature and landscape as not only being, you know, things that are green, but cities and I daresay the very concept of change as nature. I like to describe myself as a person who does not like change. I look at old film footage of the 60s and 70s, when I was alive, and even earlier and wish really hard that I could time travel. I am not a person who rearranges the furniture (which I liken to the difference between cat and dog people). I am not a person who throws things out, I am not a person who leans toward modern architecture. I like picture moldings. I like detail. My dad has a wall of rusty old tools, many that were my grandfather’s, some of which are truly beautiful with detail and even just in design. Take a walk through a big old Home Depot – I’ll spend money there, but would the word beauty come into my head? Not so much. And – I love the country, I love small towns with tiny little main streets and fantasize about the day I will move to one, and yet I continue to live in the city, and I actually love a lot of cities big and small and even though I will tote around the New Yorker cartoon with the guy in a t-shirt reading “I have mixed feelings about New York” which sums up my entire existence there in spite of the fact that I am not sorry at all to have grown up there, and, I think y’all know how much I love this one, Chicago, in particular. And yet. Andy Warhol was able to find beauty, able to make others see beauty, in a Campbell’s soup can. Could there be beauty in bin after bin of screws and nails and wingnuts and what have you? Could there be beauty – and brutality – and many other things worth looking at – ANYWHERE? (Ok, I’m really sorry about the caps here, you have to imagine italics, which I’m too lazy for today as all these BRILLIANT thoughts pour out of me.) I’ve digressed a bit, but if you take the actual definition of nature, is it natural to develop and pave and invent and destroy and fight the developers and pavers and inventors and destroyers and do it all over again in different ways, like, throughout time? I think so, whether or not I like it at any given moment.
Welcome to my head, by the way.
Not unrelated and actually kind of funny, speaking of Warhol, is that they had some old footage of him being interviewed, and his answers were quite terse, Yes. No. Yes. No. and Ben added that he would often turn to the person or the interviewer and say something like I don’t know, what do you think? So in this footage, the interviewer asks him something deep about the importance of his art and he responded by saying, with a chuckle, Can I just say, Llllaaaaaaallllhhh? And I have to say, man, he was an odd bird, but I kind of want to co-opt that for the next interview, because sometimes I get asked questions about my work and I really just want to say I. Don’t. Know. (This from the girl begging George Saunders to tell me how he does it and what it all means.) Of course, Warhol was probably being coy about the significance of his work, but what would anyone with even a tiny bit of humility say? Yes! I HAVE masterminded a new generation of art. Even the people who could say that probably wouldn’t. Similarly, though, if less cagily, Jean Michel Basquiat was asked about why he worked the way he did, specifically about why this one word was crossed out a couple of times on a painting – Is it to represent the messiness of life, Basquiat? No, man, he said, it’s a mistake. Well then how come this one is crossed out with an X and this other one only with one line? Because that was a better mistake.
Anyway, I could go on here, but my loose plan is to retire in twenty years and only do crafts. Because I can execute in certain ways, sewing, embroidering, knitting, even the occasional gluing, and enjoy the process very much – but the brilliant and original idea that make the crafts into arts? Not so much. That’s ok. In my retirement, I’ll write for fun. Oh wait, I do that now.


mernitman said...

Cool post -- it's fun being in your head. The Basquiat quote made me laugh and think and then laugh again. And I WANT one of those ambivalent NYC t-shirts!
A very Happy New Year to you.

DAM said...

Definitely not the same kind of artist, but Cher was once asked how she accounts for her enduring fame. I'm paraphrasing, but it was something along the line of Jupiter being aligned with Mars and her ass is in Pluto. Loved that.

It cracks me up that people look at art so deeply and *think* they see what is intended by the artist. "Don't you see? S/he is commenting on the futility of love." Get a grip. Sometimes, what I intend is missed and what I never intended is seen as some sort of proclamation about life.

By the way, I absolutely think there can be beauty in a bin of screws and nails. I saw a documentary the other night called "The Last Days." A Jewish survivor of the Holocaust made a menorah while in the camps composed entirely of nails. Upon his death, he wanted it to be given to the first U.S. soldier he saw walk into the camp. It now sits in the soldier's home, and it is beautiful.

Betsy said...

Someone could make a mint printing those t-shirts, I think.
Yes, Debra, sometimes what I intend is missed and what I never intended is seen - and although I have a lifelong obsession with being UNDERSTOOD, I would add that that's probably as it should be. That doc sounds good - menorah of nails probably more beautiful than just the bin at Home Depot.

DAM said...

Oh, I also thing the naked nails and such have their own beauty. Naked, so to speak.

An ex used to hang his bike on the wall. I loved it. Sort of made its own art.

I don't want to sound trite, but I really believe there can be art in everything, except some things, which means there isn't art in everything, but there is.

I once wanted to mount a mirror on an easel and let the person looking into the mirror be the art work. Sorry I never did it.